Decimating Vital Court Mediation Services

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          The following letter from Peter Glassman, Executive Director of Albany’s mediation center, Mediation Matters, tells part of a story that is all too real and alarming to ignore any more – the story of the dismantling of the basic institutions of American government and society.  As the multipier effects of the Great Recession (which resulted from decades of under-taxing wealthy people in America) ripple through New York State, institutions such as schools, local government services, and vital state programs are reduced or curtailed.

          Make no mistake, these kinds of budget reductions anywhere will only further repress the economy, making next year’s budgets all that much harder to balance.  Unfortunately, Governor Cuomo did not do the one thing that would have helped New York economically, namely, raise the income taxes paid by millionaires and billionaires.  That would have injected needed revenues into and stimulated the New York economy with no recessive effect. 

         Our courts are crucial to our civilized society, and to cut the judiciary budget by $170 million takes New York a long way down a slippery slope to disaster.  It defies reason to argue that New York will save in the long run from such a draconian measure.  The mediation services in question are an important part of the justice system, and by helping people solve problems that impose a burden on society (such as family court and PINS filings), they have saved millions for the court system.  As for the damage done to mediation programs in New York by the latest budget cuts, Mr. Glassman’s letter [1] speaks for itself.  – JMH 4/18/11

________________________

4/17/11

Dear Volunteer Mediators, Arbitrators & Facilitators:

          Some of you may have heard by now that mediation centers around the state have been hit hard by the recent cuts in the New York State budget. In particular, the Judiciary budget, which provides funding for Mediation Matters, was cut $170 million.

          The Office of Court Administration (OCA) recently notified Mediation Matters that our contract with the NYS Unified Court System, our principal funding source, has been cut by nearly a quarter million dollars or 46%.  This cut is retroactive to April 1st, the start of the state’s fiscal year. 

          Regrettably, such a significant cut will result in layoffs, reductions in staff hours, salaries, and benefits, as well as some changes in how our remaining staff will conduct our business and serve our courts and communities. 

          We are still working out these details, so we do not yet have specifics about how our staffing and programs will be affected.  The following changes, however, are definite:

  •   We will be closing ourTroyoffice effective as early as May 1, and no later than June 1;
  •   We will likely be finding a smaller office space in Albany in the coming months;
  •   Reimbursement will no longer be paid for travel by volunteers afterApril 30, 2011;
  •  There will be no Family/PINS training until further notice;
  •  The Basic Mediation Training we hold in collaboration with Skidmore College in the fall will not be co-sponsored by Mediation Matters, and will not be open to those outside of the Skidmore community; and
  • All future in-services [2] will become brown bag events, as we can no longer afford to provide food at our in-services or committee meetings.

          We are still evaluating both the type and level of staff and program cuts that this reduction in funding will necessitate.  However, layoffs and reductions in coverage of our courts and communities are unavoidable.

          Now, more than ever, we need the skills and passions you have consistently demonstrated in your work with Mediation Matters.  We know you all have so much to offer, so we will be looking at a number of ways to increase your involvement with the organization.  This may include providing office or court coverage; inputting data; conducting intakes with prospective mediation participants; helping to prepare and present trainings; or working in collaboration with staff to grow our fee-based activities in a variety of areas.  You will be getting a notice shortly announcing two important in-services – one in Albany on May 5th, and one in Saratoga Springson May 11th — which will enable us to explore these issues with your input, as well as the future of Mediation Matters. 

          While these cuts are devastating for all of us on both professional and personal levels, it is important to remember that we will survive. We will not compromise the values upon which our profession was established and we know that with your help, we will continue to offer mediation at the high level of quality we have done in the past.  We will find new ways to thrive by standing together and bringing our talents and passions to bear in a way that benefits our communities and helps people manage conflict and find productive solutions in a constructive and peaceful way. Please do not hesitate to reach either of us if you have questions or suggestions as we move forward, together, through these uncertain times. And, as always, we thank you for your continuing service to Mediation Matters and to your community.

Peter S. Glassman, Esq.

Executive Director

Mediation Matters

_______________

[1] Written in collaboration with Mediation Matters Board President Jonathan Fishbein.

[2] “In-Services” are the underlying continuous program for professional training.

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